Scorecard invites the sector to get its data game on
Last summer film producer and Full Circle Fund Technology Circle Chairman Marc Smolowitz was wondering which nonprofits were being hardest hit in the recession, and therefore where donors might direct their resources to greatest effect. Marc met Amie Vaccaro, who suggested he connect with us to put together a map that would show where Bay Area nonprofits were bearing the brunt of the downturn. The all-volunteer team we rounded up with Marc’s leadership included savvy geospatial mappers and digital storytellers. The only problem was… no data!
Whereas in the world of public corporations there is a huge information infrastructure set up to publish moment-by-moment information about every single company, in the nonprofit world of nearly 2 million organizations no such infrastructure exists. The IRS has a list of registered charities, but the most recent filings of many are more than 2 years old. Is it because they are defunct, they have just filed late, or there is no requirement to update it more rapidly? One doesn’t know. Each US state also has a database but not every state makes it searchable online, and once again the filings may be out of date and offer minimal detail. Guidestar, a public charity, works to supplement the IRS forms with news, community ratings, photos and videos the nonprofits can supply themselves, but there is little detailed, systematic information about geographic scope, content or efficacy of the work, even for many of the largest nonprofits. For example the most recent 990 form on file for the American National Red Cross, which has been one of the charities recommended by the US government during the Haiti earthquake relief effort, covers only the period through June 2008. There is simply no single place one can go to get real time information about which nonprofits are thriving versus which are at risk, and which are going under… let alone who is partnering or merging with whom or what’s working to solve problems.
So, instead of creating a geospatial map of the real-time status of nonprofits, we headed for square one and created a scorecard that shows what official nonprofit information is made available online, on a state-by-state basis. We did it entirely using free tools, free information, and thanks to everyone who pitched in, free labor.
The Scorecard’s goal is to stimulate the conversation about how to get more comprehensive and up-to-date information on nonprofits. What will drive demand for good real-time information, enough that nonprofits invest in providing it? We’d love to hear what you think, and if you’d like to help improve the scorecard or realize the original vision of a real-time map of nonprofits’ status, please share your opinions and get involved!